Device Death Blossom

It looks like a beautiful flower.  Sniff it too long and you’ll have plenty of time to dream about it.

I have seen probably a dozen component venture presentations (I just found one of my own!) that have what I call the “Death Blossom” slide.  Apologies to those who aren’t B-Grade SciFi fans and have seen The Last Starfighter.  The GunStar (wow, I remember I was blown away by those graphics!) is equipped with the “Death Blossom” feature which spins the ship like mad and fires its missiles to vaporize every bad guy in sight.

Ventures formed around a materials science or novel device breakthrough often imply they can do the same.  More likely, they will spin out of control and launch a battery of very expensive missiles into deep space.

The Standard Optoelectronic Death Blossom

The Standard Optoelectronic Death Blossom

Yes, I’m picking on optoelectronics for this one– since I’m familiar with building this diagram myself 12 years ago.  The one where you have a device that allows some exchange between electrons and photons… and it can do everything better than what’s in the market today!

The temptation, particularly among first-time entrepreneurs, is to develop the “platform” and license off applications to companies who actually build things.  This may work in pharmaceuticals– I am no expert on that market– but it certainly does not work in optoelectronic devices.

The simple truth is that to commercialize a single device, with a single advantage over the incumbent technology, typically takes 5-10 years.  It requires an incredibly focused, systematic effort around a specific set of requirements.  Usually you need to make a lot of system trade-offs around the peculiarities of the new device– and hopefully to bring its advantage to the fore.

So pick a market for your device that is big enough at the system level, and can grow quickly. Pick an axis along which to compete— and unless you are beating the competition by 5-10x on cost at the device level, don’t pick cost (subject of future post).  Put the blueprints for world domination of every other sector into your “future ventures” file.  And start working!

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